5 Questions to help you beat overwhelm

5 Questions to help you beat overwhelm [PMP #238]

Feeling overwhelmed and having ‘too much to do’ is a common problem people ask me about. Most of us have a lot going on; work projects, meetings, study, friends, family, social commitments and household chores. When all of these things add up, it’s easy to feel anxious and like you have too much on the go at once.

Whenever I feel stressed out and overwhelmed, I like to plan and organise as much as I can. That way, even though I have a lot to do, having a plan makes me feel like I’m on top of everything because now I have the means to get everything done.

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Here are 5 questions to help you plan better so you can overcome that stressed out, overwhelming feeling:

1. What are 5 things I'd like to get done this week?

If you have a big to-do list with dozens or maybe even hundreds of things to do, start by identifying 5 things you’d really like to get done within the next week (one each day). Even if you feel like you can do more, setting the bar low and starting with a smaller list helps you get going so you can build momentum.

To help answer this question, you can use the importance-urgency matrix. As you look at your to-do list, try and find things that are both important; they will have a big impact on your work or a project, and urgent; they’re time-sensitive and need to be completed sooner rather than later.

2. When am I going to do them?

Once you’ve identified your top 5 tasks or jobs for the week, now you should think about WHEN you’re actually going to do them.

I talk about this all the time but a to-do list is really just a list of ‘good intentions'. To turn this list into a plan, you need to block out time for the work on your calendar.

Making time for your top 5 tasks will force you to make decisions around when to do the work (a day and time) and how long to allocate to the work. It also helps you to fit the work in around other commitments like meetings and other time-sensitive appointments.

3. How can I do less?

By far the best way to beat overwhelm is to have less to do.Click To Tweet

As social animals, we often feel compelled to please other people and say ‘yes’ to every request. Last week I talked about creating a ‘not-to-do’ list to help you come up with rules that govern how NOT to spend your time so that you don’t take on too much.

If you have a big to-do list that’s making you feel overwhelmed, I suggest going down the list and questioning whether every task really needs to be there. I’ve seen people clutter up their tasks lists with random ideas they might want to do one day, or with lists of articles and books to read. Or they’ll simply take on more work than they can handle. Again, evaluating everything through this lens of what’s important and urgent will help you to prune your to-do list so what remains is just the truly important stuff.

Sometimes I’ll look at a task that I previously assigned to myself and now looking at it with fresh eyes will decide that it’s not worth my time or there’s not enough value in doing the work.

4. What have I been putting off for a while?

We’re all guilty of this; putting work off again and again due to a lack of motivation or discipline.

Maybe it’s a difficult conversation you need to have or an idea isn’t ready yet. With things like this there are basically two ways to deal with them:

Don’t do it » This may not be an option but if it is, simply decide that you’re not going to do it and get it off your to-do list. Stop making yourself feel worse.

If not doing it isn’t an option, you really have just one choice:

Do it now » Make it one of your 5 things to get done this week and eat the frog. Once you get it off your to-do list you’ll feel a lot less overwhelmed having dealt with a big mental burden.

5. What can you automate or outsource?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and can’t keep up, it’s time to get some help through automation and (or) outsourcing.

Automation tools like Zapier, Hazel, Alfred, Shortcuts, TextExpander (affiliate link) and Keyboard Maestro have helped me to save a LOT of time in my business. Now you might be thinking; ‘I’m too busy, I don’t have time to learn how to use these tools’. But automation is one of those skills that’s going to pay back dividends years to come and the sooner you start to automate your important processes, the sooner you’ll reap the benefits.

Carve out some time in the evening or at the weekend and start with something small. Save some email templates into TextExpander. Or use Zapier to create some if-then style automations. Once you get the automation ball rolling, you’ll learn more about what’s possible and you’ll start finding automation opportunities everywhere.

Hiring a virtual assistant is a great way of outsourcing some of the more mundane or tedious parts of your work to someone else. And you don’t have to be a business owner to have a VA. In The 4-Hour Workweek, author Tim Ferriss shares multiple examples of how salaried employees have used VA’s to lighten their workload and free up time. If you looked at your workload, I’m sure you could find plenty of things that a VA could easily handle if explained clearly. That leaves you to work on the things only you can do which is a much better use of time.

How do you deal with overwhelm? Please share your ideas, thoughts and feedback in the comments below!